Former Gymnast Shares Gospel, Extends Forgiveness at Sexual Abuse Trial
Veronica Neffinger wrote her first poem at age seven and went on to study English in college, focusing on 18th century literature. When she is not listening to baseball games, enjoying the outdoors, or reading, she can be found mostly in Richmond, VA writing primarily about nature, nostalgia, faith, family, and Jane Austen.
- 2018 Jan 25
Former U.S. Olympic gymnast Rachael Denhollander was the first to accuse Larry Nassar, a sports physician who treated many female gymnasts, of sexual assault. She was also the last to give her testimony against him at his recent trial.
Many former and current U.S. gymnasts have now spoken up and testified against Nassar for the horrific sexual abuse he inflicted upon them under the guise of medical treatment, and also against the U.S. Gymnastics program in general for the culture of abuse and neglect it fostered while no one in power spoke up.
For his crimes, Judge Rosemarie Aquilina sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison. Justice was served in that courtroom, but something even more compelling happened during the trial.
Denhollander, a former gymnast who is now a lawyer with a husband and three children, spoke last at Nassar’s trial.
Her impassioned speech of justice and forgiveness has impacted many.
In her over 30-minute testimony, Denhollander described in detail the abuse she suffered and the anguish she felt knowing that others had experienced it too.
Christian blogger and pastor Scott Slayton described Denhollander’s testimony this way:
“She chronicled the delight Nassar took in grooming his victims and how he showed no remorse for his actions. She said Nassar found, ‘sexual satisfaction in our suffering.’ Then she addressed the Judge again, saying, ‘the sentence you hand down you can communicate to all these little girls and to every predator to every little girl or young woman who is watching how much a little girl is worth.’”
Although Denhollander was fighting for justice for herself and for every other young woman who fell prey to Nassar’s abuse and the blind eye to which many in the U.S. Gymnastics community turned to it, she ended her testimony with a powerful call to repentance and forgiveness.
Denhollander made reference to the Bible Nassar brought to his hearing and stated, “Larry, if you have read the Bible you carry, you know forgiveness does not come from doing good things, as if good deeds can erase what you have done. It comes from repentance which requires facing and acknowledging the truth about what you have done in all of its utter depravity and horror without mitigation, without excuse, without acting as if good deeds can erase what you have seen this courtroom today.”
She then went on to clearly outline the Gospel for Nassar and for all those present:
“The Bible you speak carries a final judgment where all of God's wrath and eternal terror is poured out on men like you. Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done, the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you.
I pray you experience the soul crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me -- though I extend that to you as well.”
Through the horrific ordeal Denhollander and many others suffered, God sustained her and gave her not only the grace to continue the fight, but to extend forgiveness to someone who, according to all human standards, should not be forgiven and to, as she said, “extend grace and hope and mercy where none should be found.”
Denhollander’s powerful testimony reminds all of us of the need for both justice and forgiveness. Though evil is strong, forgiveness is truly stronger and more compelling.
We pray each one affected by Nassar’s abuse would take satisfaction from the justice that he received for his crimes, but would also experience the freedom that comes with extending forgiveness.
“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Note: Denhollander's testimony contains some intense content. Viewer discretion is advised.
Photo: Woman from the Michigan based victim advocacy groups End Violent Encounters and Firecracker Foundation cheer for women as they leave the courthouse after the sentencing of the disgraced doctor in Ingham County Circuit Court on January 24, 2018 in Lansing, Michigan. The former USA Gymnastics and Michigan State University Doctor was sentenced to up 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting dozen of girls and women.
Photo courtesy: Anthony Lanzilote/Getty Images
Publication date: January 25, 2018
Veronica Neffinger is the editor of ChristianHeadlines.com